Dairy code divides opinions

By Rodney Woods

While many of the farmers were definitively against a mandatory dairy code, those who had not yet made up their mind were certain a code of some kind was necessary.

That was the vibe in the room at the Mercure Port of Echuca, which last Thursday hosted a second phase consultation meeting about a mandatory code of conduct for the dairy industry.

Facilitated by Federal Agriculture and Water Resources Department assistant secretary Jo Grainger, it was obvious there was confusion and differing opinions about certain aspects of the draft code.

Cobram East farmer Paul Mundy, who was the most vocal opponent of the mandatory code at the meeting, said things should stay the same.

‘‘I’m not in favour of a mandatory code in any form whatsoever,’’ Mr Mundy said.

‘‘Specifically I don’t think people understand when they’re (the Federal Government) talking about a mandated minimum price, exactly what that minimum price is and the form in which it takes.

‘‘I would leave it as it is. If the ACCC and ASIC enforce the current legislation out there to the letter (of the law), instead of using kid gloves and gentle slaps on the wrist, then we wouldn’t be in this situation we’re in.’’

Katunga dairy farmer Daryl Hoey said it was necessary to differentiate between a minimum and opening price.

‘‘They are two completely different things,’’ Mr Hoey said.

‘‘An opening price announced by the factory is a pooled price amongst all its milk and all its farmers and is just an indicative price that you might be able to compare your farm against other prices that have been open if they’ve been announced with the same parameters.

‘‘Whereas a minimum price is something you actually want for your farm. You can get that if you go to a processor and get an income estimation.

‘‘They are two completely different tools and shouldn’t be blurred or tried to be interpreted as the same.’’

Undera farmer and UDV policy councillor Gemma Monk was another who was against a mandatory code.

‘‘I’m not in favour of mandatory code. I would rather see a voluntary code possibly prescribed,’’ Ms Monk said.

‘‘The main reason for that is to ensure no processors are passing on costs to farmers.

‘‘We don’t need any more (costs) — and also to allow for a bit more flexibility if something happens within the enterprise, such as a death or environmental impact ... the mandatory code may actually become a constraint to a dairy enterprise.’’

Leitchville dairy farmer Bernice Lumsden was one of the participants who was undecided on whether a mandatory code was the way forward.

‘‘I’m in favour of a code and I’m still deciding whether it be mandatory or voluntary — but I’m definitely in favour of some kind of code,’’ Mrs Lumsden said.

‘‘I think this because of the history and the total abhorrent situation that farmers found themselves in in 2016.

‘‘That situation should not ever be able to be repeated.’’

Discussing the mandatory code, Mrs Lumsden said the idea behind it was to protect dairy farmers.

‘‘The essence of the code is just to protect us from some very predatory behaviour of processors.

‘‘I think that a code, be it voluntary or mandatory, will help to improve the relationships between farmers and processors and getting to the crux of the dealing in good faith (clause).’’